The development and spread of bow technology across North America has sparked considerable archaeological debate for more than 100 years. Experts have proposed various ideas about how and why bow technology spread out of Asia between 4,000 and 2,000 years ago, including warfare, hunting strategies, and migratory paths.
We do know that bow technology was present across the North American continent by A.D. 400–800. In the ancient American Southwest, the earliest indications of bow use occur between A.D. 200 and 400. This new technology replaced the millennia-old atlatl and dart weaponry system.
In our paper just published in Evolutionary Anthropology, my coauthor Phil Geib and I focus on the timing of the adoption of bow technology in the northern Puebloan Southwest and its relationship to sedentism, warfare, social coercion, and social complexity. I have been interested in these issues for nearly two decades; working for the Navajo Nation Archaeology Department (NNAD) for nearly fifteen years allowed me to encounter Basketmaker-era sites dating to the critical period of transformation. My colleague Phil Geib has studied bow-and-arrow technology for more than twenty-five years, also through work with NNAD and other research institutions in Arizona and Utah.
In the relatively short span from 400 to 550, most Pueblo groups across the northern Southwest adopted bow-and-arrow technology, made a lasting commitment to corn agriculture, built the first permanent pithouse hamlets and small villages, incorporated beans into their diet, embraced production of durable ceramic containers, and adopted a much more sedentary lifestyle than their ancestors. This period, then, laid the foundation for subsequent developments in Pueblo culture for the next 1,000 years. In our article, we explore the role of the bow in these changes in the first few centuries after its adoption.